Addressing Key Educational Issues Through Art in Ghana
Dr. Mariama Ross and Mrs. Nana Afia Opoku Asare
Anyone who knows anything about art education in Ghana might first comment
on the dire lack of affordable supplies, equipment, and facilities for teaching and
learning, coupled with under-trained teachers struggling with over-sized classes. One
might also point to the disconnect between the various educational entities that contribute
to art education at the primary, junior and senior high schools as well as the tertiary
institutions that produce educators and administrators for the field.
Mariama Ross came to Ghana as a visiting professor in 2001-2 and in 2007
accepted a full-time position in the Art Education Department of Kwame Nkrumah
University of Science and Technology (KNUST). Nana Opoku Asare has taught in the
Art Education Department for 19 years. In this article we discuss an ongoing project we
have developed over the past two years that addresses the issues mentioned above.
Art as a subject in Ghana’s schools has a tenuous existence. At the primary level
it is rare to find an art teachers in the public or ‘government’ schools, where, as a rule, art
teachers are not employed. In the many private primary schools that compete with public
schools for the nation’s pupils, art teachers are more common. Visual art is offered in
some junior high schools that choose it over other more vocationally oriented options,
such as catering, pre-technical drawing and needlework. When students reach senior high
school they all take a course called General Knowledge in Art, which, as the title
suggests, is an overview of art history, appreciation, and production techniques. It is a
theoretical course usually involving some hands-on applications.
At the high school level students are organized into disciplinary tracks based on
choice and aggregate junior high school grades. Placement is competitive and it is very
common for students to be placed in the Visual Arts track because their aggregate did not
qualify them for their first choice, typically science or business. A similar pattern
happens when students enter university: students applying for the more popular majors
such as the sciences or technology may be put into the agriculture or art departments.
These occurrences reflect the pervasively negative viewpoint about art as an academic
Art has been one area that has suffered the buffeting of general apathy and
negative attitude of the general public. It has always been relegated to a subordinate
subject position and regarded with suspicion as being non-academic. While this
perspective is also common in many other parts of the world, in Ghana it is rooted in the
British colonial system that taught “hand and eye” drawing exercises in an effort to
improve hand-eye coordination and were part of an effort to develop vocational skills in
students. It is fair to say that, to this day, art education in Ghana’s schools has a more
vocational than expressive focus.
Teacher training is an important factor as well. While not everyone wishing to go
to school is able to get even a high school education, most people realize the value in
doing so; hence a general respect for learned people. Teaching is a respectable occupation
because of the relatively high level of education it requires, but it does not pay well,
compared to many other fields. So people enter teacher training college1 as an alternative
to the higher level studies they could not achieve or with a view of using teacher training
as a stepping stone towards a better job or status. They have been known to feel trapped
into teaching and art teaching in particular. All these attitudes are the result of poor art
teaching and performance of art teachers especially at the elementary, secondary and
training college levels. (Opoku Asare, 2000; Ross, 2000, 2004).
Other factors exacerbate the quality of art education and education in general in
Ghana’s schools. Lack of enough schools and teachers results in high class size in many
schools. Large classes coupled with few supplies and lack of teacher knowledge about a
variety of instructional strategies results in teaching that is one-dimensional; mostly
lecture-style, with notes written on the board for students to copy and be tested on later.
This style of teaching is the accepted model, with some exceptions occurring in more
affluent private schools. It is used in classrooms from pre-school through tertiary,
regardless of subject. Deviation from this method seems to depend of the availability of
alternative teaching materials as well as teachers’ knowledge about a variety of
There is an obvious gap between the schools, training colleges, and universities in
terms of goals, philosophy, accountability, and practice. At KNUST the Art Education
Department offers masters and doctorate degrees. Because school teachers are not trained
at our institution but at teacher training colleges, we have had little influence over how or
what they are learning. Many of our students, however, are instructors at the teacher
training colleges and come to us for advanced degrees. We realized the opportunity we
In Ghana, school teachers are educated in 3-year training colleges.
have to train the trainers in alternative strategies that may make a difference at several
levels of education. Hence, a pilot program was developed with objectives dealing with
instructional media, class size, and collaboration between university, teacher training
college, and primary school.
Impact at Three Levels
The opportunity for this tri-level collaboration presented itself in the form of two
IFESH2 teachers who were introduced to us by a mutual friend. They were working at
nearby Agogo Women’s Teacher Training College (AWTC), specifically to teach the
young pre-service teachers how to make teaching and learning materials, or ‘TLMs’.
Our masters students visited the Resource Center at AWTC, learning the theory and
process of making TLMs (See Figure 1-- PLEASE NOTE THAT ALL 4 FIGURES
REFERRED TO IN THIS TEXT HAVE BEEN REMOVED TO FACILITATE EASE
IN ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION. THEY WILL BE INCLUDED IN VERSION
PRESENTED AT WAAE SUMMIT). There were two serendipitous emphases of this
instruction, 1) the focus on interactive TLMs that foster learner participation over passive
viewing (i.e., posters), and 2) use of recycled materials. The first bolstered our objective
of fostering teaching strategies that are less teacher-centered, and the second promotes
environmental awareness, much-needed in Ghana.
Figure 1. KNUST masters students making TLMs at AWTC
International Foundation for Educational Help (IFESH) is a U.S. organization that sends
experienced teachers to developing countries to assist with various educational issues.
The IFESH instructors were thrilled with the ease and enthusiasm with which our
students launched into making TLMs. We realized the difference was, unlike their
AWTC students, our students, due to their art backgrounds were able to readily see the
possibilities inherent in the waste materials and had the skills to easily turn them into
usable TLMs. Art prevails again!
Back on campus, our students worked in teams to develop TLMs to support
objectives in the new Creative Arts Curriculum that requires primary classroom teachers
to add art as a subject. The teachers have no training, as yet, in how to do this, so we
decided to demonstrate the use of our creative arts TLMs in a local primary school, not
only for the benefit of teachers who could observe, and students who could learn, but also
so our students could field-test their TLMs for effectiveness. In five first grade
classrooms our students conducted lessons on pattern arrangement, and print making, and
other related subjects (See Figures 2-4). Later, students from AWTC visited our campus,
art gallery, and the primary school, bringing the project full circle. The pilot project was
a huge success and got rave reviews from all concerned parties.
Figure 2. KNUST masters students teaching first graders using TLMs
Figure 3. First grade teacher watching TLM lesson
Figure 4. First grade class and teacher watching TLM lesson
In coming semesters, we will expand this collaborative project to include more
classrooms, materials, and teachers while finding innovative ways to involve instructors
and students at training colleges. As our students, many of whom are already
experienced teachers, gain more proficiency in the use of TLMs, they will take over
primary classrooms for periods of time while we pull out the teachers for more in-depth
professional development. Further dissemination will be through our new professional art
educators association (GhaSEA), as well as through workshops and conferences.
We are very excited about the potential of this project to address important
educational issues through the use of art skills, materials, and creative thinking. Using art
to improve educational practice as a whole should, in time, help reduce the negative
attitude held by many about what art and artists can do.
Dr. Mariama Ross
Mrs. Nana Afia Opoku-Asare
Opoku Asare, N. (2000). Art Education in Ghana: An Overview. Unpublished
Ross, M. (2004). Art at the Crossroads: The contested position of indigenous arts in
Ghana’s post-colonial education systems. Studies in Art Education, 45 (2), 117-
Ross, M. (2000). Symbols of identity: Akan art in the popular culture of Ghana and its
educational implications. Unpublished dissertation, Indiana University,